Australia History

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Effective family research requires some understanding of historical events that may have affected your family and their records. Learn about the key events, governments, laws, migrations, and religious trends surrounding your ancestors; they may help you understand political boundaries, family movements, and settlement patterns. These historical events may also have led to the creation of records, such as land and military documents, that mention your family.

Your ancestors will become more interesting if you also use histories to learn about the events in which they may have participated. For example, you might learn about events that occurred in the year your great-grandparents were married.

History[edit | edit source]

Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania and numerous smaller islands. It is the largest country in Oceania and the world's sixth-largest country by total area. The neighbouring countries are Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and East Timor to the north; the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to the north-east; and New Zealand to the south-east. The population of 25 million is highly urbanized and heavily concentrated on the eastern seaboard.

Australia was inhabited by indigenous Australians for about 60,000 years before the first British settlement in the late 18th century. It is documented that Aborigines spoke languages that can be classified into about 250 groups. After the European discovery of the continent by Dutch explorers in 1606, who named it New Holland, Australia's eastern half was claimed by Great Britain in 1770 and initially settled through penal transportation to the colony of New South Wales from 26 January 1788, a date which became Australia's national day.

Australia is the oldest, flattest and driest inhabited continent, with the least fertile soils, and has a landmass of 2,941,300 sq miles. A gold rush began in Australia in the early 1850s, which boosted their population. Indigenous Australian rock art is the oldest and richest in the world, dating as far back as 60,000 years.

Australia is a highly developed country, with the world's 13th-largest economy. It is also a regional power and has the world's 13th-highest military expenditure. Australia has the world's 9th largest immigrant population with immigrants accounting for 26% of the population. Having the third-highest human development index and the eighth-highest ranked democracy globally, the country ranks highly in quality of life, health, education, economic freedom, civil liberties and political rights.

Timeline[edit | edit source]

1606 - European discovery of the continent by Dutch explorers, who named it New Holland
1788 - The European settlement of Australia began with the English establishment of a penal colony at Sydney Cove, Port Jackson. Its initial population was more than 1,000 convicts and military personnel
1793 - The first free settler immigrants arrived in January
1803 - The first settlement in Van Dieman’s Land, called Tasmania since 1856,) was founded at Risdon Cove. The settlement was later moved to the present-day site of Hobart.
1825 - Van Dieman’s Land was proclaimed a separate colony, independent of New South Wales
1826 - Registration of births, marriages, and deaths in each parish was required by law
1828 - The first regular census was taken in New South Wales. The population was estimated at 36,598, including 15,728 convicts
1838 - New Zealand was proclaimed a colony, independent of New South Wales
1839 - Government-assisted immigration to Australia began
1841 - The "bounty" system of assisted immigration ceased operation.
1850s - The Australian Gold Rush brought prospectors and emigrants from all over the world. More than a half million people emigrated to Australia during that decade
1863 - The area later known as the Northern Territory annexed from New South Wales to South Australia. It remained under South Australian administration until 1911, when the Commonwealth assumed administration
1901 - Australia became a Commonwealth
1911 - The Australian Capital Territory was vested, and the Commonwealth took over the administration of the Northern Territory

The Family History Library has many published national, state, and local histories for Australia. You can find these histories by looking in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:




The following are only a few of the many historical sources that are available. Some may be found in major research libraries.

  • Andrews, Michael. Australia Year By Year: A concise history of Australia since 1770. Sydney, Australia: Trocadero Publishing, 1984. (Family History Library Call Number 994 H2am.)
  • Barker, Anthony W. What Happened When: A chronology of Australia, 1788–1990. St. Leonards, N.S.W., Australia: Allen & Unwin, 1992. (Family History Library Call Number 994 H2ba.)
  • Bassett, Jan. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Australian History. Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press, 1986. (Family History Library Call Number 994 H26b.)
  • Clark, Charles Manning Hope. A History of Australia. Six Volumes. Melbourne, Australia: Melbourne University Press, 1962–1987. (Family History Library Call Number 994 H2c.)

For more historical sources, see Australia Encyclopedias and Dictionaries.

Local Histories[edit | edit source]

Some of the most valuable sources for family history research are local histories. They describe the settling of the area and the founding of churches, schools, and businesses. They also profile the early settlers and prominent people. In addition, published histories of towns, districts, and states may contain histories of families. Even if your ancestor is not mentioned, information on other relatives may be included that may provide important clues for locating your ancestor. Local histories may also suggest other records to search. They may be studied and enjoyed for the background information they can provide about your family and about the community and environment in which your family lived.

Local histories are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:



Bibliographies of national, state, and local histories are available for Australia and many of its states. These biographies are listed in the Locality Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under: